Turkey 2001 - Off The Beaten Track


Photos by Pawel Babala and Marcin Gerc
Written by Marcin Gerc


We left Poland at the beginning of June 2001. Five people together, Pawel and Patrycja in first car, myself, my girlfriend Monika and nine year old Ada. We traveled in two expedition equipped 2.5 Tdi Landrover Discoveries. Our plan was to cover almost 9,000 km in three weeks.

Our path took us through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, with the aim of reaching Istanbul after three days.

From there we steer towards our chosen destination - Asian regions of Turkey.

Around 30 km for Istanbul we reached at a town by the name of POLONEZ. It turns out in the previous century this region was settled by Poles who fled during the war of Krym. To this day the area is settled by descendants of these first settlers.

From Polonez we headed directly towards the Black See shoreline where we set up our first camp. This turned out to be trickier than we expected because in order to arrive at an interesting looking campsite under a cliff face we first had to travel through 3 km of beach terrain. How surprised were we to find out just how easily a 2.5 ton four-wheel drive can get stuck in such sand. In very short time out to action came out ramps, shovels and eventually even a winch. 3 km and 2 hours later we finally made it to our chosen spot.

In the morning we continued in the direction of Sinop. It is the only road that follows the shoreline. On our map it was marked as a high quality country road. In one word, 'astonishment' was our reaction when we traveled only 150 km in eight hours.

Why you may ask? Well, if you have ever traveled on roads in the Alps mountains that seem unbearably slow and windy, let me tell you, those were highways. Here the road is about the width of one car (for example a truck loaded with several tons of coal), is consistently uneven and built with whatever was available at the time. This road once was made of asphalt but over the years the potholes were filled with sand, grid and concrete etc. Never in my life have I changed gears so much even though hardly ever reaching fourth gear. It was one of the few moments that I dreamt to have an automatic gear box instead of a manual.

Day one over, a clearly marked red road and we only covered 150 km - it was not meant to look like this!!!

The following day, and another 150 km. We're not particularly impressed - if we keep going like this two months will not be enough. We settle in to camp on a beautiful pier which heads out 200 meters into the sea and connects to a cliff face on the other side. And now for a small surprise. During the time we were setting up camp we noticed that we have been watched by two men staring at us in a dark car parked in a nearby forest. Why are these men staring?

Eventually they left and while we felt uneasy about falling asleep, in the end tiredness won out, with each one of us clinging on to a solid Mag-Lite under the pillow. To be honest, it's not particularly useful for anything, but at least it provides a feeling a safety. In the morning it turned out last night's visitors were actually locals who were surprised by the out of ordinary sight and even invited us for tea.

We travel further east. The road is getting decisively better. We travel by the sea (surrounded by numerous old bunkers and forts) through villages and engage in conversation with the locals. All of them are incredibly hospitable offering tea and coffee, willing to share with anything they may have (cigarettes, coke, fruit, etc). At around 4-5 p.m. we stray from the road and travel beside the sea, looking for a place to camp. As we start going over some dunes (it is allowed here) we literally run into a group of fishermen. They were just as surprised as we were. We try to ask them where is a good place to camp. Although 'asking' is probably not a good description, more like drawing, gesturing, using words of all possible languages. Difficult, very difficult but they eventually catch on. After a discussion between themselves one of the locals gets into Pawel's car and drives toward our new camping spot.

The wind is blowing a gale, whistling so loudly you can't even hear a person standing 5 meters from you. We begin to prepare camp but our fisherman guide takes Pawel by the hand and leads him away until we can no longer see the both of them. Ten minutes go by and we feel begin to quite stupid standing there in the dark and waiting.

Myself, two women and a child in the middle of nowhere and nobody around. Two more 'long' minutes go by. Finally from the darkness we begin to see a silhouette and we begin to hear Pawel's voice. We hear him yell out 'No, no …. don't camp out here, he showed me an awesome place, we're going further'.

In the end we broke out camp by his house on a beach. Our host disappeared in the darkness. After several minutes we hear the sound of an oncoming vehicle. Our fisherman arrived with his family - wife and son. We drank tea and 'discussed'.

The next day we arrive at Trabzon. This marks the end of our 'seaside' part of the journey.

The day after that, we head towards the mountains, this time not on any asphalt roads. We hope it will be fine.

Before tackling the mountains we decided to do a bit of sightseeing first. Around 30 km from Trabzon lies the beautiful Samuel monastery. Carved from solid rock at a height of 1000 meters it made an amazing impression. The hike towards it - while not easy - was well worth the effort. The monastery is literally attached to a side of the cliff face. Admiring its beauty we couldn't help but think how much sweat and toil it took to carve such a creation.

End of games, it's starting to get tricky. Our normal road ends and we enter something which is marked on our map as 'grey and broken', which after several hundred meters presents us with our first surprise. We find an enormous bulldozer with tyres the size of our cars is trying to flatten this 'thing' that is supposed to be our road. The workers couldn't believe their eyes as they saw two Polish registered vehicles in front of them desperately trying to get ahead.

We keep on going and it turns out to be fine, by now it's around 5 p.m.

After approximately two hours of maneuvering along this 'road' against a cliff face we arrive at a small village. It's getting dark and we clearly need to find a place to camp. We try to ask the locals about camping possibilities (showing a card with a tent icon usually worked). We were informed that here is no chance to camp but if we go THERE then we might find something.

It turns out that THERE meant snow covered tips right up in the mountains!

But HERE is not possible ??? No, no it isn't !!!

After some fast negotiations and $12US we managed to find a guide who directed us with his car to our place of camp. I don't have to describe our surprise when we see our guide jumping into a 15-person Ford Transit van and asking us to follow him. But hang on ….. now we see him stop, load up 4 heavy bags and 5 friends. What is going on ……. we keep going.

We quickly realized that it was to maintain weight on the rear axle.

After several kilometers we engage low gears but our guides' Ford transit doesn't. We keep on going.

After several kilometers of this ride our eyes are popping out of their sockets - two Land Rovers equipped with heavy terrain tyres with low-gear engaged are climbing towards the mountains.. as is the Transit!

It's dark and probably just as well as we really didn't want to look down the sides anymore.

In the end we made it to the top. What we saw was hard to describe in short sentence.

Its dark, very dark. Above, millions of stars are shining brightly and in front of us lies a small mountain village from which the only fragment of light came the from windows in the village's huts. The effect was amazing, as if the fragments of light from the village and the stars shining were united as one.

We break out camp on a field. Campfire, a long discussion with our guides and an exchange of souvenirs follows. We receive a tape of Turkish music, while in return our guide receives from us a well-deserved 4x4 Off-road.pl sticker!!

In the morning we awake to the sounds of bell-whistles and naggings of the tent. It turns out that we ended up on enormous cow grazing pastures. Everything around us looks like it's from a fairy tale. Lush, green grass, healthy, friendly cows like in Disney cartoons and a village that resembles something out of a western story (three shops, two bars a hotel and that's it - one street around 100m long). It is so beautiful here we decide to stay for two days. We also realized the name of that village was Sultan Murat, really one of the most amazing places we ever visited.

On the second day the owner for the hotel invited us to stay the second night at this hotel. During the course of late evening tea the owner made a suggestion to show us a little bit around the area, by night ……. only.

This suggestion was 'not to be refused' as our host calmly explained while at the same time holding by his side a pump-action shotgun while his friend was hiding another gun under his coat. I swear these are not our imaginations working overtime here. This really happened. All this is happening in the hotel restaurant with us trying to keep a smile on our faces. Monika and Ada are adamant they are not going to sleep. Meanwhile Pawel, Patrycja and myself have decided to go ahead on the 'trip'. We depart. The three of us, four Turks and big dog. We quickly realize we are going toward one of the fields for a bit of hunting . At this moment Patrycja blurts out 'I refuse to participate in the killing of animals!'. So now just the two of us are left. End result being 2 hours of walking through bushes. Luckily for us and the poor animals, none of them came out into our eyesight.

The next morning we say goodbye to our hosts and head toward Erzurm, the most eastern city that we'll come across during our journey.

Reaching Erzurm we face problems. Concrete, military everywhere, not good. The worst was that our hopes about traveling further down to Bingol were quickly dashed as all the locals claimed it's just too risky. They were all referring to theft and tourist attacks, etc.

We turn towards Kayser and Kapadocja. The road from Erzurm to Kapadocja is dead straight for 380kms. Even if one wanted to drive along side it doesn't get much better. It was clear we had a few boring hours of driving in front of us.

But no, no, no, it's not quite as simple as that. After traveling for some 50 km I hear Pawel's voice over the CB - "Lets stop for a minute, my engine is heating up a bit" he says. So we stop, we look, we check and we discuss, and it all seems to look just fine. We keep on going and then again I hear Pawel's voice "It's getting warm again". We stop, we look, we discuss and we keep on going.

Several more kilometers further and this time we get stopped by the police. It seems we have broken the speed limit. Unbelievable, a 2.5 ton diesel with an over-heated engine and yet a Pole can manage. The cost - 26mln TL (approx. $18) per car.

We move. On the CB I suddenly hear "Fu#k !!! It's heating up again". We stop again at some gas station. This time we give it a real good look over. The thermostat is unscrewed as is the temperature gauge, all indicators are checked etc. After 1.5 hours of inspection we are concerned that we may have some serious damage on our hands. We'll be needing some help to prepare for the job at hand.

Whilst still preparing for our trip, over the internet I got to know a Turk by the name of Umit. Umit happened to be a proud owner of a LR Discovery V8 and also the founder of the Turkish Land Rover club. We give him a call to find out if he knows of any decent mechanics around the area of Erzincan. After several phone calls between us we're informed that we should wait where we are until a white Renault 19 arrives in 20 minutes with a mechanic. Taking into consideration that we are some 1,000 km away from Istanbul, where our friend lives, we are really surprised by this prompt organization.

The Renault arrives and we see four men come out, no, run out toward our car armed with a large tool box. Seeing this, Pawel too runs toward his car before it becomes totally stripped down by these 'crazy mechanics'. After several minutes of mutual discussion we hear a decisive 'no problem', however we will need to get to the nearest garage in order to finish the job. It turns out the problem was not as big as anticipated and could be patched up. After two hours we're back on the road. It's already 7 p.m. but we decide to keep going for another 200 km.

The next day we spend in Kapodoc. A lot has been written and filmed trying to capture the beauty of this part of Turkey, and rightly so. We are taken aback by the cave systems and underground 'cities'. It's something which we often read about in guides and something that we definitely wanted to experience for ourselves.

Early morning we move on. Time is starting to become precious and we want to reach the shores of the Marmar sea. The road passes through several ruins, close to Ankara.

The temperature is approaching 40C. Around us there is not a tree or anything that could provide us with shade. The air is dry, the traffic low. Looking out the window we keep thinking we're seeing a mirage. We keep believing this because in reality none of us really knows what to expect. We stop and gaze through our binoculars at something that's on the horizon - is it there or maybe it isn't? In the end Pawel suddenly drives off the main road and through some terrain towards …. something. We go after him but decide to stop after several meters thinking what idiot would really want to run towards a mirage. We wait for him to come to his senses and return. Slowly we begin to lose him from our eyesight. Then we hear from a loudspeaker "Get your butts here now, you won't believe your eyes". What did he find there?

After several kilometers we suddenly find ourselves on the edge of one Turkey's several salt lakes. It turns this was no mirage after all. Although.. further on the horizon we're still not sure if something's there or not. Unfortunately we will not be able to ever find out.

That same day we reach Yalova, which also marks the last part of our journey. Just enough time for a visit to a Turkish bath, some old Roman ruins and then time to head home.

We're left with some real impressions. Turkey is one of the most beautiful countries we've ever visited. It is full of kind and friendly people who showed plenty of hospitality and helped us out when we needed a hand.

We're sure that one day, down the track we will definitely return.



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